It’s a Grand Ol’ Flag

Tuesdays at Eight

At the Lobero Theatre, Tuesday, July 4.

Reviewed by Gerald Carpenter

This American concert began, naturally enough, with Wolfgang Mozart (Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478) and Darius Milhaud (Quatre Visages for Viola and Piano, Opus 238). Although the Constitution had been around for four years when Mozart died, he never made it to our shores, but his great librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte, ended his days in New York, teaching Italian at Columbia. The unmistakably French Milhaud spent much of his life on this side of the Atlantic — first, during World War II, in the French Embassy in Brazil, and then as a professor at Mills College in Oakland, as well as serving as honorary music director of the Music Academy from 1948 to 1951.

The program became emphatically American — if not yet Americana — with the next piece, Richard Lavenda’s entertaining Chiaroscuro, performed by flautist Timothy Day, bassoonist Benjamin Kamins (for whom it was written), bassist Nico Abondolo, and percussionist Michael Werner. Lavenda was on hand for the performance and was patently delighted, as was the audience.

Now we come to the heart of the matter — the three composers whose works represent, for me, some of the best that American music has to say for itself: George Antheil, Lukas Foss, and Samuel Barber.

Antheil’s Sonata No. 2 for Violin with Piano and Drums was performed by violinist Jeff Thayer and pianist (and drummer?) Warren Jones and made no doubt the strongest impression of any work of the evening. So ’20s in its cheeky combination of disparate styles and themes, so ebulliently anarchistic in its self-destruction, the Sonata is an excellent example of Antheil’s “bad boy of music” persona, but gives no hint of the great romantic nationalist to come. Thayer’s patient virtuosity made him a perfect straight man to Jones’s spontaneous slapstick.

Lukas Foss’s Three American Pieces, which followed the intermission, was a much more straightforward bit of homegrown loveliness — the melodies American in spirit, but not, I think, quotations — with plenty of (musical) fireworks at the end. Violinist Kathleen Winkler and pianist Anne Epperson make a dream team.

Finally, I can scarcely believe that soprano Rena Harms is a student at the Academy, so poised and exquisite was her singing of Samuel Barber’s incomparable setting of James Agee’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915, yet the program claimed her as an “academy young artist,” so I must take them at their word. Neither Harms nor the wonderful ensemble, conducted by Warren Jones, batted an eye when the fireworks began in earnest halfway through the song. Talk about shock and awe!

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